Ștefan Ungureanu | Interview
The collective character is the main focus in your work. You present the group as generator of multiple phenomena. Where do you believe the individual fails and the group succeeds? And does the opposite ever occur?
I’ve been obsessing about observation and it became apparent that, without terms/criteria to structure what I see, reality keeps its scale (1/1), the individual might not be the smallest unit of the question/object (“the group”) so the level at which an individual would fail has nothing to do with its participation to some collective phenomenon, this “group event” has a nonspecificity that individuates into some other thing that tells a different story while scaling from a personal to a broader commentary.
There is an issue of “optics” or point of view that scales or shapes an idea when you dispute this individual/group paradigm; the individual tends to decrypt some holistic/initiatic journey, a narrative from all the overlapping synchrony and asynchrony of the others if you take two of them, then you start a tournament of narratives and you need to generate some sort of criteria to do that, but you are still thinking about the storyability of an experience, when the number grows and… I can’t figure out which is the magic number or threshold at which you stop having many narratives and you get a snapshot of all those characters and the overlapping stops appearing to be a pile of events, it is one event different from the sum of its constituent parts, it is the phenomenon/it is the system.
You chose the term Ant generated future to define your solo show (with the finissage event taking place on January 28th, 2016, 7 pm, at H’art Gallery in Bucharest). From this perspective, the group is perceived as a smarter structure than individuals taken separately, as they are susceptible of error. Yet groups are formed of individuals, so how is human error diminished or eliminated from this collective structure, keeping in mind that the group may lead to order and common good or to disorder and even to the entity’s own apocalypse?
The title of the show is a reference to a mathematical exercise: virtual ants solution to the travelling salesman problem (a travelling salesman has to find the shortest route in between several destinations). Virtual ants solution proposes “a first generation of ants” with a simple rule: each ant leaves a trace of pheromones in its path, each one going in a random direction. Then a second generation leaves the starting point applying the same rule plus another one: when you stumble upon another path, follow it; the more ants go on the same path, the thicker the pheromone path, instead of a road you get a highway.
Given enough turns, you get an optimized solution to this problem, so an individual’s fail doesn’t echo in any way to the end result and it might not know that it’s failing… it’s doing whatever he “thinks” by his own rules, this comes into play when you realize that the more complex things are the interesting ones and you need to react to interactions rather than a fix decontextualized query.
What are the criteria you consider when you build this collective character in your works? Take us inside the group’s structure – what are the rules, the goals, the needs, the potential conflicts, what unites it and what may dissolve it, what is the faith that drives it to exist and manifest.
I try to create a series of simple rules for their participation (like the virtual ants) in a larger problem either unsolvable/ irrelevant/ nonexistent individually, in some areas it should look like a fight, in some like a race, and as a whole – a false cooperation and if you have cooperation you need a reason for it so I build a physical context, a situation as stand-in for a question (an activity)… a threshold; the idea behind this “threshold” or apparent purpose would be that though there seems to be some clear-cut event surpassable or not, but essentially ephemeral, we might not have thresholds, but a way that things are/work, something intrinsic to existence, not “a stop on the way”.
How has the concept of group evolved in your work? What makes this exhibition different compared to your previous series?
The previous exhibition was for me “the shock of the new” as in “discovering” all these tools of observation, these criteria of classification and an environment which engulfs the idea of “science” so, it was built with a mixed feeling of admiration and aspiration, expanding the view… it took some time for me to absorb these mechanisms and to actually generate some thoughts with them as appose to about them so that they can function in relation to a more sensorial/emotional world which would be the foundation for this exhibition, this transformation echoes into the group’s role, it has mutated from observer to actant and now to the intrinsic subject of my work, “they” came to the forefront.
Science seems to interest you and we notice several scientific references and concepts in your works, as well as in the way you reflect human origins or natural phenomena, the paintings that show people defusing bombs, for instance. Share some insights about this intersection between art and science.
Science formulates questions in an argumentable way, for my works it is more an issue of language not of substance, the questions: who are we? why are we here? where are we going? are the same, but the tools which try to tackle these issues today, and in my opinion from now on, are intertwined with a scientific way of seeing things, as an odd palpability of abstraction, there is always another layer of complexity to consider.
There is also this sense of staged experience, as if we are intruding behind the scenes in a director’s film set. Moreover, as viewers we are always the observers, in our labs, analyzing the behavior of the represented groups, although in many cases we follow the same path – to ascension, follow the same rules in our social lives etc. Can you explain this feeling of detachment your works generate?
You either immerse into or distance yourself from something that interests you, after having a subject it needs a context, after the context it needs a layer of credibility (rules) so one work develops by absorbing more and more rules and instinctively, after the claustrofobia of obsessing about something, you get the proper distance (a personal resolution) which always hints to more complexity (e.g.: a character half in the picture) and though symbolic you need to build the rules for an entire world to make one work, hence the cinema snapshot look (which says this is definitely something to see but there’s more to what is going on), but instead of an entire movie you get one frame to conjure the whole “experience” so there’s a need for the panoramic.
How much does the audience leave its mark on your work? Are there any interpretations, questions that have influenced you or made you see the work or certain themes you approach differently? What do you enjoy about the public? What do you dislike hearing about your work or believe limits it in this regard?
After the works are “done”, and by done I mean it seems that what I see is pretty clear, they need a conversation partner so: this is what I see… what do you see? would be the beginning with the audience, people pull ideas from other experiences and another world view, therefore the work translates differently and sometimes in a valid structure distal to mine but proximal to the work.
When do you consider you finished a work? Does it ever finish? Tell us more about the process, the ups and downs until you are fully satisfied with the result.
At some point after the initial inertia of enthusiasm everything is where it should be and you can see weeks ahead of defining and redefining characters, layers of detail you stop realizing the work is there and now you got caught up in technique (you compulsively made a detail in the background and now the foreground needs even more, if you want a coherent space) so you take it out of the studio with a solemn promise to revisit the twenty or so things that “really need redoing”, after the mentioned weeks you take the work back in the studio and try to find them, it’s never satisfactory though you don’t find the same flaws, you find others, and build them into rules for later works, and the work is done : ).
Images © Ștefan Ungureanu
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